Docs startup Almanac raises $34 million from Tiger as remote work shift hardens

As companies continue to delay their returns to the office and find temporary remote work policies becoming permanent, the startups building tooling for remote work-first cultures are finding a seemingly endless supply of customers.

“Companies are finding the shift to remote work is not a one-time aberration due to Covid,” Almanac CEO Adam Nathan tells TechCrunch. “Over the past several months we’ve seen pretty explosive revenue growth.”

Almanac, which builds a doc editor that takes feature cues like version control from developer platforms like Github, has been seizing on the shift to remote work, onboarding new customers through its open source office document library Core while pushing features that allow for easier onboarding like an online company handbook builder.

In the past couple years, timelines between funding rounds have been shrinking for fast-growing startups. Almanac announced its $9 million seed round earlier this year led by Floodgate, now they’re taking the wraps off of a $34 million Series A led by the pandemic’s most prolific startup investment powerhouse — Tiger Global. Floodgate again participated in the raise, alongside General Catalyst and a host of angels.

The company wants its collaborative doc editor to be the way more companies fully embrace online productivity software, leaving local-first document editors in the dust. While Alphabet’s G Suite is a rising presence in the office productivity suite world, Microsoft Office is still the market’s dominant force.

“We see ourselves as a generational challenger to Microsoft Office,” Nathan says. “It’s not only an old product, but it’s totally outmoded for what we do to today.”

While investors have backed plenty of startups based on pandemic era trends that have already seemed to fizzle out, the growing shift away from office culture or even hybrid culture towards full remote work has only grown more apparent as employees place a premium on jobs with flexible remote policies.

Major tech companies like Facebook have found themselves gradually adjusting policies towards full-remote work for staff that can do their jobs remotely. Meanwhile, Apple’s more aggressive return-to-office plan has prompted a rare outpouring of public and private criticism from employees at the company. Nathan only expects this divide to accelerate as more companies come tor grips with the shifting reality.

“I personally don’t believe that hybrid is a thing,” he says. “You have to pick a side, you’re either office culture or ‘cloud culture.’”

Study finds half of Americans get news on social media, but percentage has dropped

A new report from Pew Research finds that around a third of U.S. adults continue to get their news regularly from Facebook, though the exact percentage has slipped from 36% in 2020 to 31% in 2021. This drop reflects an overall slight decline in the number of Americans who say they get their news from any social media platform — a percentage that also fell by 5 percentage points year-over-year, going from 53% in 2020 to a little under 48%, Pew’s study found.

By definition, “regularly” here means the survey respondents said they get their news either “often” or “sometimes,” as opposed to “rarely,” “never,” or “don’t get digital news.”

The change comes at a time when tech companies have come under heavy scrutiny for allowing misinformation to spread across their platforms, Pew notes. That criticism has ramped up over the course of the pandemic, leading to vaccine hesitancy and refusal, which in turn has led to worsened health outcomes for many Americans who consumed the misleading information.

Despite these issues, the percentage of Americans who regularly get their news from various social media sites hasn’t changed too much over the past year, demonstrating how much a part of people’s daily news habits these sites have become.

Image Credits: Pew Research

In addition to the one-third of U.S. adults who regularly get their news on Facebook, 22% say they regularly get news on YouTube. Twitter and Instagram are regular news sources for 13% and 11% of Americans, respectively.

However, many of the sites have seen small declines as a regular source of news among their own users, says Pew. This is a different measurement compared with the much smaller percentage of U.S. adults who use the sites for news, as it speaks to how the sites’ own user bases may perceive them. In a way, it’s a measurement of the shifting news consumption behaviors of the often younger social media user, more specifically.

Today, 55% of Twitter users regularly get news from its platform, compared with 59% last year. Meanwhile, Reddit users’ use of the site for news dropped from 42% to 39% in 2021. YouTube fell from 32% to 30%, and Snapchat fell from 19% to 16%. Instagram is roughly the same, at 28% in 2020 to 27% in 2021.

Only one social media platform grew as a news source during this time: TikTok.

In 2020, 22% of the short-form video platform’s users said they regularly got their news there, compared with an increased 29% in 2021.

Overall, though, most of these sites have very little traction with the wider adult population in the U.S. Fewer than 1 in 10 Americans regularly get their news from Reddit (7%), TikTok (6%), LinkedIn (4%), Snapchat (4%), WhatsApp (3%) or Twitch (1%).

Image Credits: Pew Research

There are demographic differences between who uses which sites, as well.

White adults tend to turn to Facebook and Reddit for news (60% and 54%, respectively). Black and Hispanic adults make up significant proportions of the regular news consumers on Instagram (20% and 33%, respectively.) Younger adults tend to turn to Snapchat and TikTok, while the majority of news consumers on LinkedIn have four-year college degrees.

Of course, Pew’s latest survey, conducted from July 26 to Aug. 8, 2021, is based on self-reported data. That means people’s answers are based on how the users perceive their own usage of these various sites for newsgathering. This can produce different results compared with real-world measurements of how often users visited the sites to read news. Some users may underestimate their usage and others may overestimate it.

People may also not fully understand the ramifications of reading news on social media, where headlines and posts are often molded into inflammatory clickbait in order to entice engagement in the form of reactions and comments. This, in turn, may encourage strong reactions — but not necessarily from those worth listening to. In recent Pew studies, it found that social media news consumers tended to be less knowledgeable about the facts on key news topics, like elections or Covid-19. And social media consumers were more frequently exposed to fringe conspiracies (which is pretty apparent to anyone reading the comments!)

For the current study, the full sample size was 11,178 respondents, and the margin of sampling error was plus or minus 1.4 percentage points.

 

Inside GitLab’s IPO filing

While the technology and business world worked towards the weekend, developer operations (DevOps) firm GitLab filed to go public. Before we get into our time off, we need to pause, digest the company’s S-1 filing, and come to some early conclusions.

GitLab competes with GitHub, which Microsoft purchased for $7.5 billion back in 2018.

The company is notable for its long-held, remote-first stance, and for being more public with its metrics than most unicorns — for some time, GitLab had a November 18, 2020 IPO target in its public plans, to pick an example. We also knew when it crossed the $100 million recurring revenue threshold.

Considering GitLab’s more recent results, a narrowing operating loss in the last two quarters is good news for the company.

The company’s IPO has therefore been long expected. In its last primary transaction, GitLab raised $286 million at a post-money valuation of $2.75 billion, per Pitchbook data. The same information source also notes that GitLab executed a secondary transaction earlier this year worth $195 million, which gave the company a $6 billion valuation.

Let’s parse GitLab’s growth rate, its final pre-IPO scale, its SaaS metrics, and then ask if we think it can surpass its most recent private-market price. Sound good? Let’s rock.

The GitLab S-1

GitLab intends to list on the Nasdaq under the symbol “GTLB.” Its IPO filing lists a placeholder $100 million raise estimate, though that figure will change when the company sets an initial price range for its shares. Its fiscal year ends January 31, meaning that its quarters are offset from traditional calendar periods by a single month.

Let’s start with the big numbers.

In its fiscal year ended January 2020, GitLab posted revenues of $81.2 million, gross profit of $71.9 million, an operating loss of $128.4 million, and a modestly greater net loss of $130.7 million.

And in the year ended January 31, 2021, GitLab’s revenue rose roughly 87% to $152.2 million from a year earlier. The company’s gross profit rose around 86% to $133.7 million, and operating loss widened nearly 67% to $213.9 million. Its net loss totaled $192.2 million.

This paints a picture of a SaaS company growing quickly at scale, with essentially flat gross margins (88%). Growth has not been inexpensive either — GitLab spent more on sales and marketing than it generated in gross profit in the past two fiscal years.

Twitter Super Follows has generated only around $6K+ in its first two weeks

Twitter’s creator platform Super Follows is off to an inauspicious start, having contributed to somewhere around $6,000 in U.S. iOS revenue in the first two weeks the feature has been live, according to app intelligence data provided by Sensor Tower. And it’s made only around $600 or so in Canada. A small portion of that revenue may be attributed to Ticketed Spaces, Twitter’s other in-app purchase offered in the U.S. — but there’s no way for this portion to be calculated by an outside firm.

Twitter first announced its plans to launch Super Follows during its Analyst Day event in February, where the company detailed many of its upcoming initiatives to generate new revenue streams.

Today, Twitter’s business is highly dependant on advertising, and Super Follows is one of the few ways it’s aiming to diversify. The company is also now offering a way for creators to charge for access to their live events with Ticketed Spaces and, outside the U.S., Twitter has begun testing a premium product for power users called Twitter Blue.

Image Credits: Twitter

But Super Follows, which targets creators, is the effort with the most potential appeal to mainstream users.

It’s also one that is working to capitalize on the growing creator economy, where content creators build a following, then generate revenue directly through subscriptions — decreasing their own dependence on ads or brand deals, as a result. The platforms they use for this business skim a little off the top to help them fund the development of the creator tools. (In Twitter’s case, it’s taking only a 3% cut.)

The feature would seem to make sense for Twitter, a platform that already allows high-profile figures and regular folks to hobnob in the same timeline and have conversations. Super Follows ups that access by letting fans get even closer to their favorite creators — whether those are musicians, artists, comedians, influencers, writers, gamers, or other experts, for example. These creators can set a monthly subscription price of $2.99, $4.99, or $9.99 to provide fans with access to bonus, “behind-the-scenes” content of their choosing. These generally come in the form of extra tweets, Q&As, other interactions with subscribers.

Image Credits: Twitter

At launch, Twitter opened up Super Follows to a handful of creators, including the beauty and skincare-focused account @MakeupforWOC; astrology account @TarotByBronx; sports-focused @KingJosiah54; writer @myeshachou; internet personality and podcaster @MichaelaOkla; spiritual healer @kemimarie; music charts tweeter @chartdata; Twitch streamers @FaZeMew, @VelvetIsCake, @MackWood1, @GabeJRuiz, and @Saulsrevenge; YouTubers @DoubleH_YT, @LxckTV, and @PowerGotNow; and crypto traders @itsALLrisky and @moon_shine15; among others. Twitter says there are fewer than 100 creators in total who have access to Super Follows.

While access on the creation side is limited, the ability to subscribe to creators is not. Any Twitter iOS user in the U.S. or Canada can “Super Follow” any number of the supported creator accounts. In the U.S., Twitter has 169 million average monetizable daily active users as of Q2 2021. Of course, only some subset of those will be iOS users.

Still, Twitter could easily count millions upon millions of “potential” customers for its Super Follow platform at launch. Its current revenue indicates that, possibly, only thousands of consumers have done so, given many of the top in-app purchases are for creators offering content at lower price points.

Image Credits: Sensor Tower

Sensor Tower notes the $6,000 in U.S. consumer spending on iOS was calculated during the first two weeks of September (Sept. 1-14). Before this period, U.S. iOS users spent only $100 from August 25 through 31 — a figure that would indicate user spending on Ticketed Spaces during that time. In other words, the contribution of Tickets Spaces revenue to this total of $6,000 in iOS consumer spending is likely quite small.

In Canada, the other market where Super Follow is now available, Twitter’s iOS in-app purchase revenue from September 1 through September 14 was a negligible $600. (This would also include Twitter Blue subscription revenue, which is being tested in Canada and Australia.)

Worldwide, Twitter users on iOS spent $9,000 during that same time, which would include other Ticketed Spaces revenues and tests of its premium service, Twitter Blue. (Twitter’s Tip Jar, a way to pay creators directly, does not work through in-app purchases).

Unlike other Twitter products that developed by watching what users were already doing anyway — like using hashtags or retweeting content — many of Twitter’s newer features are attempts at redefining the use cases for its platform. In a massive rush of product pushes, Twitter has recently launched tools for not just for creators, but also for e-commerce, organizing reading materials, subscribing to newsletters, socializing in communities, chatting through audio, fact-checking content, keeping up with trends, conversing more privately, and more.

Twitter’s position on the slower start to Super Follows is that it’s still too early to make any determinations. While that’s fair, it’s also worth tracking adoption to see if the new product had seen any rapid, of-the-gate traction.

“This is just the start for Super Follows,” a  Twitter spokesperson said. “Our main goal is focused on ensuring creators are set up for success and so we’re working closely with a small group of creators in this first iteration to ensure they have the best experience using Super Follows before we roll out more widely.”

The spokesperson also noted Twitter Super Follows had been set up to help creators make more money as it scales.

“With Super Follows, people are eligible to earn up to 97% of revenue after in-app purchase fees until they make $50,000 in lifetime earnings. After $50,000 in lifetime earnings, they can earn up to 80% of revenue after in-app purchase fees,” they said.

Confluent CEO Jay Kreps is coming to TC Sessions: SaaS for a fireside chat

As companies process ever-increasing amounts of data, moving it in real time is a huge challenge for organizations. Confluent is a streaming data platform built on top of the open source Apache Kafka project that’s been designed to process massive numbers of events. To discuss this, and more, Confluent CEO and co-founder Jay Kreps will be joining us at TC Sessions: SaaS on Oct 27th for a fireside chat.

Data is a big part of the story we are telling at the SaaS event, as it has such a critical role in every business. Kreps has said in the past the data streams are at the core of every business, from sales to orders to customer experiences. As he wrote in a company blog post announcing the company’s $250 million Series E in April 2020, Confluent is working to process all of this data in real time — and that was a big reason why investors were willing to pour so much money into the company.

“The reason is simple: though new data technologies come and go, event streaming is emerging as a major new category that is on a path to be as important and foundational in the architecture of a modern digital company as databases have been,” Kreps wrote at the time.

The company’s streaming data platform takes a multi-faceted approach to streaming and builds on the open source Kafka project. While anyone can download and use Kafka, as with many open source projects, companies may lack the resources or expertise to deal with the raw open source code. Many a startup have been built on open source to help simplify whatever the project does, and Confluent and Kafka are no different.

Kreps told us in 2017 that companies using Kafka as a core technology include Netflix, Uber, Cisco and Goldman Sachs. But those companies have the resources to manage complex software like this. Mere mortal companies can pay Confluent to access a managed cloud version or they can manage it themselves and install it in the cloud infrastructure provider of choice.

The project was actually born at LinkedIn in 2011 when their engineers were tasked with building a tool to process the enormous number of events flowing through the platform. The company eventually open sourced the technology it had created and Apache Kafka was born.

Confluent launched in 2014 and raised over $450 million along the way. In its last private round in April 2020, the company scored a $4.5 billion valuation on a $250 million investment. As of today, it has a market cap of over $17 billion.

In addition to our discussion with Kreps, the conference will also include Google’s Javier Soltero, Amplitude’s Olivia Rose, as well as investors Kobie Fuller and Casey Aylward, among others. We hope you’ll join us. It’s going to be a thought-provoking lineup.

Buy your pass now to save up to $100 when you book by October 1. We can’t wait to see you in October!

Facebook revamps its business tool lineup following threats to its ad targeting business

Facebook today is announcing the launch of new products and features for business owners, following the threat to its ad targeting business driven by Apple’s new privacy features, which now allow mobile users to opt out of being tracked across their iOS apps. The social networking giant has repeatedly argued that Apple’s changes would impact small businesses that relied on Facebook ads to reach their customers. But it was not successful in getting any of Apple’s changes halted. Instead, the market is shifting to a new era focused more on user privacy, where personalization and targeting are more of an opt-in experience. That’s required Facebook to address its business advertiser base in new ways.

As the ability to track consumers declines — very few consumers are opting into tracking, studies find — Facebook is rolling out new features that will allow businesses to better position themselves in front of relevant audiences. This includes updates that will let them reach customers, advertise to customers, chat with customers across Facebook apps, generate leads, acquire customers and more.

The company earlier this year began testing a way for customers to explore businesses from underneath News Feed posts by tapping on topics they were interested in — like beauty, fitness, and clothing, and explore content from other related businesses. The feature allows people to come across new businesses that may also like, and would allow Facebook to create its own data set of users who like certain types of content. Over time, it could possibly even turn the feature into an ad unit, where businesses could pay for higher placement.

But for the time being, Facebook will expand this feature to more users across the U.S., and launch it in Australia, Canada, Ireland, Malaysia, New Zealand, Philippines, Singapore, South Africa, and the U.K.

Image Credits: Facebook

Facebook is also making it easier for businesses to chat with customers. They’re already able to buy ads that encourage people to message them on Facebook’s various chat platforms — Messenger, Instagram Direct, or WhatsApp. Now, they’ll be able to choose all the messaging platforms where they’re available, and Facebook will default the chat app showcased in the ad based on where the conversation is most likely to happen.

Image Credits: Facebook

The company will tie WhatsApp to Instagram, as well, as part of this effort. Facebook explains that many businesses market themselves or run shops across Instagram, but rely on WhatsApp to communicate with customers and answer questions. So, Facebook will now allow businesses to add a WhatsApp click-to-chat button to their Instagram profiles.

This change, in particular, represents another move that ties Facebook’s separate apps more closely together, at a time when regulators are considering breaking up Facebook over antitrust concerns. Already, Facebook interconnected Facebook’s Messenger and Instagram messaging services, which would make such a disassembly more complicated. And more recently, it’s begun integrating Messenger directly into Facebook’s platform itself.

Image Credits: Facebook

In a related change, soon businesses will be able to create ads that send users directly to WhatsApp from the Instagram app. (Facebook also already offers ads like this.)

Separately from this news, Facebook announced the launch of a new business directory on WhatsApp, allowing consumers to find shops and services on the chat platform, as well.

Another set of changes being introduced involve an update to Facebook Business Suite. Businesses will be able to manage emails through Inbox and sending remarketing emails; use a new File Manager for creating, managing, and posting content; and access a feature that will allow businesses to test different versions of a post to see which one is most effective.

Image Credits: Facebook

Other new products include tests of paid and organic lead generation tools on Instagram; quote requests on Messenger, where customers answer a few questions prior to their conversations; and a way for small businesses to access a bundle of tools to get started with Facebook ads, which includes a Facebook ad coupon along with free access to QuickBooks for 3 months or free access to Canva Pro for 3 months.

Image Credits: Facebook

Facebook will also begin testing something called “Work Accounts,” which will allow business owners to access their business products, like Business Manager, separately from their personal Facebook account. They’ll be able to manage these accounts on behalf of employees and use single-sign-on integrations.

Work Accounts will be tested through the remainder of the year with a small group of businesses, and Facebook says it expects to expand availability in 2022.

Other efforts it has in store include plans to incorporate more content from creators and local businesses and new features that let users control the content they see, but these changes were not detailed at this time.

Most of the products being announced are either rolling out today or will begin to show up soon.

News aggregator SmartNews raises $230 million, valuing its business at $2 billion

SmartNews, a Tokyo-headquartered news aggregation website and app that’s grown in popularity despite hefty competition from built-in aggregators like Apple News, today announced it has closed on $230 million in Series F funding. The round brings SmartNews’ total raise to date to over $400 million and values the business at $2 billion — or as the company touts in its press release, a “double unicorn.” (Ha!)

The funding included new U.S. investors Princeville Capital and Woodline Partners, as well as JIC Venture Growth Investments, Green Co-Invest Investment, and Yamauchi-No.10 Family Office in Japan. Existing investors participating in this round included ACA Investments and SMBC Venture Capital.

Founded in 2012 in Japan, the company launched to the U.S. in 2014 and expanded its local news footprint early last year. While the app’s content team includes former journalists, machine learning is used to pick which articles are shown to readers to personalize their experience. However, one of the app’s key differentiators is how it works to pop users’ “filter bubbles” through its “News From All Sides” feature, which allows its users to access news from across a range of political perspectives.

It has also developed new products, like its Covid-19 vaccine dashboard and U.S. election dashboard, that provide critical information at a glance. With the additional funds, the company says it plans to develop more features for its U.S. audience — one of its largest, in addition to Japan —  that will focus on consumer health and safety. These will roll out in the next few months and will include features for tracking wildfires and crime and safety reports. It also recently launched a hurricane tracker.

The aggregator’s business model is largely focused on advertising, as the company has said before that 85-80% of Americans aren’t paying to subscribe to news. But SmartNews’ belief is that these news consumers still have a right to access quality information.

In total, SmartNews has relationships with over 3,000 global publishing partners whose content is available through its service on the web and mobile devices.

To generate revenue, the company sells inline ads and video ads, where revenue is shared with publishers. Over 75% of its publishing partners also take advantage of its “SmartView” feature. This is the app’s quick-reading mode, and alternative to something like Google AMP. Here, users can quickly load an article to read, even if they’re offline. The company promises publishers that these mobile-friendly stories, which are marked with a lightning bolt icon in the app, deliver higher engagement — and its algorithm rewards that type of content, bringing them more readers. Among SmartView partners are well-known brands like USA Today, ABC, HuffPost, and others. Currently, over 70% of all SmartNews’ pageviews are coming from SmartView first.

SmartNews’ app has proven to be very sticky, in terms of attracting and keeping users’ attention. The company tells us, citing App Annie July 2021 data, that it sees an average time spent per user per month on U.S. mobile devices that’s higher than Google News or Apple News combined.

Image Credits: App Annie data provided by SmartNews

The company declined to share its monthly active users (MAUs), but had said in 2019 it had grown to 20 million in the U.S. and Japan. Today, it says its U.S. MAUs doubled over the last year.

According to data provided to us by Apptopia, the SmartNews app has seen around 85 million downloads since its October 2014 launch, and 14 million of those took place in the past 365 days. Japan is the largest market for installs, accounting for 59% of lifetime downloads, the firm noted.

“This latest round of funding further affirms the strength of our mission, and fuels our drive to expand our presence and launch features that specifically appeal to users and publishers in the United States,” said SmartNews co-founder and CEO Ken Suzuki. “Our investors both in the U.S. and globally acknowledge the tremendous growth potential and value of SmartNews’s efforts to democratize access to information and create an ecosystem that benefits consumers, publishers, and advertisers,” he added.

The company says the new funds will be used to invest in further U.S. growth and expanding the company’s team. Since its last fundraise in 2019, where it became a unicorn, the company more than doubled its headcount to approximately 500 people globally. it now plans to double its headcount of 100 in the U.S., with additions across engineering, product, and leadership roles.

The Wall Street Journal reports SmartNews is exploring an IPO, but the company declined to comment on this.

The SmartNews app is available on iOS and Android across more than 150 countries worldwide.

5 reasons to need to go to TC Sessions: SaaS 2021

We’re thrilled that TC Sessions: SaaS 2021 is just slightly more than a month away (on October 27). You have purchased your event ticket, right? No? Well then, it’s time to get your rhymes-with-SaaS in gear.

Bonus: You’ll save $100 if you buy your pass before October 1 at 11:59 pm (PT). What’s that? You need a bit more convincing? Fair enough; listen up.

TC Sessions are a special kind of TechCrunch event. We take one topic and devote an entire day (or sometimes two) and explore the latest trends, challenges and possibilities. And we always focus on the early-stage founders hard at work building or reinventing the sector.

So, what can TC Sessions: SaaS do for you? Here are five reasons why attending isn’t just essential — it’s imperative.

1. Expand your knowledge base

The de facto software for the B2B and B2C crowd, SaaS is rapidly expanding and constantly evolving to meet ever-increasing demand. How do you scale effectively? What’s your plan to keep company and customer data safe at a time where security threats proliferate faster than bacteria?

You’ll hear from and engage with the leading voices in SaaS on these and other topics like Data, Data Everywhere and Automation’s Moment Is Now. Take a look at our still-growing event agenda.

“Attending TC Sessions helps us keep an eye on what’s coming around the corner. It uncovers crucial trends so we can identify what we should be thinking about before anyone else.” — Jeff Johnson, vice president of enterprise sales and solutions at FlashParking.

2. Network for opportunity

Thousands of SaaS-y people from around the world will attend, and that means infinite possibilities for collaboration and opportunities. The following real-world example comes out of TC Sessions: Mobility, provided courtesy of Karin Maake, senior director of communications at FlashParking.

“TC Sessions isn’t just an educational opportunity, it’s a real networking opportunity. Everyone was passionate and open to creating pilot programs or other partnerships. That was the most exciting part. And now — thanks to a conference connection — we’re talking with Goodyear’s Innovation Lab.”

3. Connect with founders or investors

Early-stage founders in search of funding and VCs in search of promising startups — it is ever thus, and you’ll find each other at TC Sessions: SaaS. Take advantage of CrunchMatch, our AI-powered platform that makes finding and connecting with the people you most want to meet simple and efficient.

Start a conversation and see where it leads. It’s one big reason why Rachael Wilcox, creative producer, Volvo Cars makes it a point to attend TC Session events.

“I go TC Sessions to find new and interesting companies, make new business connections and look for startups with investment potential. It’s an opportunity to expand my knowledge and inform my work.”

4. Connect with community

Building a startup can be a lonely pursuit, even without a pandemic. Spend a day with your people — explore the startups in the demo area, talk shop with other founders and engineers, learn the latest trends, hear SaaS icons share their journey and insight. In short, get inspired to keep at the Sisyphean task of building your empire.

“TC Sessions is definitely worth your time, especially if you’re an early-stage founder. You get to connect to people in your field and learn from founders who are literally a year into your same journey. Plus, you can meet and talk to the movers and shakers — the people who are making it happen.” — Jens Lehmann, technical lead and product manager, SAP.

5. Discover new and exciting startups

Speaking of that demo area, we’ve got 10 outstanding early-stage startups ready to show you their latest and greatest. Marvel at your colleagues’ ingenuity, start a conversation, schedule a product demo. Who knows, you might join forces and create a little SaaS magic.

TC Sessions: SaaS 2021 takes place on October 27. Whether you pick one of our reasons, all five or come up with your own, buy your pass before October 1 at 11:59 pm (PT), and you’ll save $100.

Is your company interested in sponsoring or exhibiting at TC Sessions: SaaS 2021? Contact our sponsorship sales team by filling out this form.

App Annie and co-founder charged with securities fraud, will pay $10M+ settlement

The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has charged App Annie, a leading mobile data and analytics firm, as well as its co-founder and former CEO and Chairman Bertrand Schmitt, with securities fraud. App Annie and Schmitt have agreed to pay over $10 million to settle the fraud charges which are related to “deceptive practices and making material misrepresentations about how App Annie’s alternative data was derived,” the SEC said.

App Annie is one of the largest sellers of mobile app performance data, offering details that are useful to developers, publishers, advertisers and marketers — like how many times an app is downloaded, how often it’s used, the revenue it generates and other competitive analysis and insights. This is what trading firms call “alternative data,” because it’s not detailed in their financial statements or other traditional data sources, the SEC explains. App Annie told app makers it would not disclose their data to third parties directly, but would rather use the data in an aggregated and anonymized way to provide app insights. Specifically, companies were told the data would be used to build a statistical model to generate estimates of app performance.

However, the SEC says from late 2014 through mid-2018, App Annie used non-aggregated and non-anonymized data to alter its model-generated estimates in order to make them more valuable to sell to trading firms. It also says that the company and Schmitt then misrepresented to its customers how it was able to generate the data, saying it did so with the appropriate consent from customers, and that it had effective internal controls to prevent the misuse of confidential data, ensuring it was in compliance with federal securities laws. Trading firms were making investment decisions based on this data and App Annie had even shared ideas as to how they could use the estimates to trade ahead of earnings announcements.

In the full complaint, the SEC further explains Schmitt had agreed to an internal policy where certain public company “Connect Data” — “Connect” being App Annies’ analytics product — would be excluded from its statistical model in late 2014. But he didn’t actually direct anyone at App Annie to document this policy until April 2017. And then when it was documented, it only said to exclude app revenue data from public companies whose app revenue exceeded 5% of the company’s total revenue. It never said to exclude app download or usage data.

The SEC says the documented policy was never properly enforced. It wasn’t until after App Annie learned of the SEC investigation in June 2018 that it amended the policy to exclude public company Connect Data from its estimate generation process, and began to fully implement the policy.

The investigation also discovered that App Annie engineers in Beijing, China were directed by Schmitt to manually alter estimates that would be of most interest to the company’s highest-paying customers. It did so by looking at the confidential Connect Data, which is one of the ways its estimates were able to be more accurate than rivals. Later, in 2016, it implemented a more automated way of adjusting its model-generated estimates to match up with the actual (and confidential) revenue and download numbers. When App Annie’s Chief Data Scientist refused to implement the method, believing adjustments should only be made to the statistical model itself, Schmitt had the Beijing engineers make the changes without informing other company executives, subscribers, users or employees.

“The federal securities laws prohibit deceptive conduct and material misrepresentations in connection with the purchase or sale of securities,” said Gurbir S. Grewal, director of the SEC’s Enforcement Division, in a statement. “Here, App Annie and Schmitt lied to companies about how their confidential data was being used and then not only sold the manipulated estimates to their trading firm customers, but also encouraged them to trade on those estimates—often touting how closely they correlated with the companies’ true performance and stock prices,” Grewal added.

The SEC says App Annie and Schmitt violated the anti-fraud provisions of Section 10(b) of the Exchange Act and Rule 10b-5. App Annie, without either admitting or denying the findings, consented to a cease-and-desist order and is paying a penalty. App Annie agreed to pay a penalty of $10 million. Meanwhile, Schmitt is ordered to pay a penalty of $300,000 and is prohibited from serving as an officer or director of a public company for three years.

Reached for comment, App Annie’s current CEO provided a statement:

“Since I have taken over as CEO, we have established a new standard of trust and transparency for the newly created alternative data market. App Annie is uniquely positioned to be the first to deliver on a unified data AI vision,” said Theodore Krantz, CEO at App Annie. “Many businesses may be unknowingly leveraging data reliant on confidential public company information without explicit consent which we believe puts companies using digital/mobile market data at significant risk. It is our opinion that the entire alternative data space needs to be regulated.”

In a newsroom post, the company also pointed out that the SEC investigation does not relate to its “current products,” nor did it relate to “our current relationships with customers.” And it says in the three years since the violating practices, it has appointed a new CEO and executive team, changed how it built its data estimates, and established a company-wide “culture of compliance,” which included the appointment of a Head of Global Compliance. It also documented its procedures for ensuring confidential data is excluded from its process of generating market estimates.

App Annie’s mobile market data solution was one of the first to serve the growing app ecosystem when it launched in 2010. Today, its firm counts more than 1,100 enterprise clients and over a million registered users, according to its corporate website. The company earlier this summer was said to be weighing a possible sale, IPO, or other options.

The details of the complaint and settlement are below.

 

LinkedIn is launching its own $25M fund and incubator for creators

When LinkedIn first launched Stories format, and later expanded its tools for creators earlier this year, one noticeable detail was that the Microsoft-owned network for professionals hadn’t built any kind of obvious monetization into the program — noticeable, given that creators earn a living on other platforms like Instagram, YouTube and TikTok, and those apps had lured creators, their content, and their audiences in part by paying out.

“As we continue to listen to feedback from our members as we consider future opportunities, we’ll also continue to evolve how we create more value for our creators,” is how LinkedIn explained its holding pattern on payouts to me at the time. But that strategy may have backfired for the company — or at least may have played a role in what came next: last month, LinkedIn announced it would be scrapping its Stories format and going back to the proverbial drawing board to work on other short-form video content for the platform.

Now comes the latest iteration in that effort. To bring more creators to the platform, the company today announced that it would be launching a new $25 million creator fund, which initially will be focused around a new Creator Accelerator Program.

It’s coming on the heels of LinkedIn also continuing to work on one of its other new-content experiments: a Clubhouse-style live conversation platform. As we previously reported, LinkedIn began working on this back in March of this year. Now, we are hearing that the feature will make an appearance as part of a broader events strategy for the company.

Notably, in a blog post announcing the creator fund, LinkedIn also listed a number of creator events coming up. Will the Clubhouse-style feature pop up there? Watch this space. Or maybe… listen up.

In any case, the creator accelerator that LinkedIn is announcing today could help feed into that wider pool of people that LinkedIn is hoping to cultivate on its platform as a more dynamic and lively set of voices to get more people talking and spending time on LinkedIn.

Andrei Santalo, global head of community at LinkedIn, noted in the blog post that the accelerator/incubator will be focused on the whole creator and the many ways that one can engage on LinkedIn.

“Creating content on LinkedIn is about creating opportunity, for yourselves and others,” he writes. “How can your words, videos and conversations make 774+ million professionals better at what they do or help them see the world in new ways?”

The incubator will last for 10 weeks and will take on 100 creators in the U.S. to coach them on building content for LinkedIn. It will also give them chances to network with like-minded individuals (naturally… it is LinkedIn), as well as a $15,000 grant to do their work. The deadline for applying (which you do here) is October 12.

The idea of starting a fund to incentivize creators to build video for a particular platform is definitely not new — and that is one reason why it was overdue for LinkedIn to think about its own approach.

Leading social media platforms like TikTok, Snapchat, Instagram and Facebook, and YouTube all have announced hundreds of millions of dollars in payouts in the form of creator funds to bring more original content to their platforms.

You could argue that for mass-market social media sites, it’s important to pay creators because competition is so fierce among them for consumer attention.

But on the other hand, those platforms have appeal for creators because of the potential audience size. At 774 million users, LinkedIn isn’t exactly small, but the kind of content that tends to live on there is so different, and maybe drier — it’s focused on professional development, work, and “serious” topics — that perhaps it might need the most financial incentive of all to get creators to bite.

LinkedIn’s bread and butter up to now has been around professional development: people use it to look for work, to get better jobs, to hire people, and to connect with people who might help them get ahead in their professional lives.

But it’s done so in a very prescribed set of formats that do not leave much room for exploring “authenticity” — not in the modern sense of “authentic self”, and not in the more old-school sense of just letting down your guard and being yourself. (Even relatively newer initiatives like its education focus directly play into this bigger framework.)

With authenticity becoming an increasing priority for people — and maybe more so as we have started to blur the lines between work and home because of Covid-19 and the changes that it has forced on us — I can’t help but wonder whether LinkedIn will use this opportunity to rethink, or at least expand the concept of, what it means to spend time on its platform.